One Diva Can Ruin A Show

Last night, we went to go see Diva at the Pasadena Playhouse.

In one word: Ehhhh.

Diva tells the story of Deanna Denninger (Annie Potts), a washed up film star needing a comeback vehicle (if you think Cybill Shepherd just before her sitcom, you’ve got it just about right). Deanna, who has the reputation for being a demanding diva, has not only fucked up her career, but has fucked or otherwise had sexual relations with everyone famous and her brother (and she doesn’t forget to remind you of this). Deanna, at the time the play starts, is starting her second year in the Emmy-winning show Deanna, written by Isaac Brooks (Todd Waring) and co-starring Ezra Twain (Ian Lithgow) as the gay character who gets all the jokes. Both Deanna and Isaac are managed by Barry Joshua (Patrick Fabian), although Isaac had him as manager first (it is unclear if Deanna ever had him). Kurt Fast (Richard Kline) is the… well they never make it clear, but he is sort of a network executive without portfolio. Petey (Robert Farrior) plays Deanna’s current boy-toy/fiancee/hunk/doormat. The play was written by Howard Michael Gould, a writer for FM, Home Improvement, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Mr. 3000… and most importantly for this play, former Executive Producer for Cybil. It was directed by David Lee.

The talent was good. The writer had the right background. There was an excellent director. So why was this play “Ehh”.

I think first was the approach. They told the story going backwards, starting from the key “diva” moment when the star fires everyone including her writer. It then works backwards to when the genesis of the idea starts, with a final update in the last scene. Throughout the way you see the diva personality come out, and all of the enablers who helped to bring it out. It think this was the point, but it made the play hard to piece together. I think the show would have done better with a more linear structure. I think that audiences wanted to see the diva get her comeuppance, and being deprived of that hurt the play.

Second, the writing was poor. There were two problems here. There were too many “fuck” jokes. Now I understand this actress had sex with everyone, learned directing from sleeping with directors, gave Alfred Hitchcock his last blow job, and had Marlon Brando remove her tampon with his teeth (yes, that is a line). But the joke is only funny the first time. The other jokes were mostly weak as well, potentially only being funny to industry insiders who might have recognized the germ of truth in them. For the average audience… lead balloon.

Third, there was some miscasting. First the good news: Ian Lithgow was great, and sounds, looks, and moves just like his dad. They should cast him in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Richard Kline plays slime very well. None of the other male actors was particularly memorable. Annie Potts, however, was miscast. Yes, she’s beautiful, sexy, and short. But she’s also incapable of being believed of as a diva. My wife and I were discussing this on the way home; there were many other actors who would have fit the bill much better: Delta Burke and Jasmine Guy were our two favorites (both Cybill Shepherd and Christine Baranski would have worked, but were also too close to home given the writer’s experience).

I was always taught to say something good if you’re going to say something bad. In addition to a few good actors, the stage design by Yael Pardess was excellent.

Our experience seems to fit the reviews: here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.

So there you have it. Occasionally, you get a clunker. We’ve only had one or two of those in all of our years at the Playhouse (we’ve been going since 1986). Next on the show calendar: a Saturday matinee of It Came From Beyond with shutterbug93 and ellipticcurve. ICFB was written by Cornell Christianson, with Music and Lyrics by Norman Thalheimer and Stephen Michael Schwartz (of Parachute Express fame, and a member of our congregation, Temple Beth Hillel). Sheri would yell at me if I forgot to mention that ICFB stars the wonderful Kevin Earley.

There’s lots of good theatre upcoming in Los Angeles. On March 10, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change starts at the Rep East in Santa Clarita. Barnum is at the NoHo Arts Center. The East-West Players are doing Sweeny Todd. I wish I could afford to, and had the time to, see all the good stuff in LA. Luckily, GoldStarEvents helps.

[Cross-posted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]

[Please remember to update my Johari Window. Also, please help me figure out what to do with my extra booze, and to let me know if you want to get together the week of Feb 27th when I’ll be in the San Jose/San Francisco area on business]